As Bay Area natives, Gail Raabe and Matt Leddy both grew up hiking, bird watching and appreciating the beauty of the bay.
Though they met in graduate school at San Francisco State University, they didn’t start dating until they ran into each other years later when they were both working as scientists at the California Academy of Sciences.
They both took an interest in environmental activism in 1982 after Mobil Oil announced plans to develop Bair Island, located in the bay near Whipple Avenue. The project was approved by the City Council of Redwood City, but for Raabe and Leddy, these plans represented a major concern both for recreation opportunities and wildlife.
As a result, they put a citizens referendum on the ballot and successfully campaigned to overturn the previous city council approval of Mobil’s plans.
As newcomers to activism, Raabe and Leddy were encouraged by their early success.
“To succeed in your first effort is inspirational,” says Raabe.
Now, the couple has a new project: fighting back against Cargill’s plans to develop as many as 1,436 acres of salt marshes.
Cargill’s original plans to develop an area south of Redwood Shores included plans for 30,000 new residents, according to Raabe, who stresses that her opposition to the project is about more than solely saving wildlife.
“This is a quality of life issue,” she said. “There are traffic impacts and water safety issues.”
In addition, tidal marshes provide a means to filter pollutants and sequester carbon, she added.
Raabe cites a 1999 report about the baylands eco-system stating that 100,000 acres of tidal marshes are needed for a healthy bay, while currently there are only 40,000 such acres.
Cargill has since ; however, Raabe expressed concern that a new plan may include small concessions for public relations purposes while still making a similar move to destroy the marsh space.
Given the high unemployment rate of 8.5 percent in the Bay Area, Raabe understands that many may see her opposition to Cargill’s development as being ‘anti-jobs’.
“When you look at the economic picture, it’s not a question of do we develop or do we not develop, rather, it’s a question of where we develop,” she said, insisting that she supports development elsewhere, such as in with accessible public transportation.
In addition, Raabe points out that the eco-system of the Bay Area is a major draw for workers.
“I think the beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities are a big reason why we live here,” she says.
Despite the couple’s past successes, Raabe stressed the need for more community members to get involved in ‘Save the Bay’ efforts.
“This is definitely a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle,” said Raabe.
“It’s going to take the sustained support of the entire community.”
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